By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
While researching this article, I never asked anyone about ganja, but received several unsolicited testimonials regardless.
It’s no accident that a lot of early Jamaican dub albums have titles like Herb Dub (Jah Lloyd) and Roast Fish Collie Weed & Cornbread (Lee Perry). The words ganja and collie (kali) both have roots in Hindi, and Howell was acquainted with Hindu rites involving cannabis. From the magic mushrooms of Palestine to the ayahuasca plants of the Amazon, natural substances have been used in religious contexts since Noah was a punk. They pry you out of your work boots and get your head into a place where you can talk to the spirits. Dub does the same thing; that’s the dope-dub-deity connection.
“The mystic quality of dub music is part of why I love it so much,” says Tom Chasteen, a Dub Club DJ at the Echo and elsewhere, and a mixer who works with the L.A. Weekly Music Award–nominated local reggae band Future Pigeon.
Eddie Ruscha, bassist for Future Pigeon, is on the same page. “Dub is spiritual, like a deep inner-spirit thing.”
“Dub is the moment,” says Dr. Rock, co-founder of the DJ-dub experience Great Stone Soundsystem. He lived in the Caribbean for many years and believes he has an angle on the feeling. “It is all about adding and taking away from the moment while living in it. Dub should always represent the sound of the sufferah’s soul — triumphant, mournful, highly comical and deadly serious.” If that seems like one toke too many, it sometimes is. The Doc says he has to tiptoe around some audiences; heavy dub can scare people.
Hey, they just came to dance, man, not get into some heavy trip. One supposes. But exactly why do people dance, anyway?
The Great Stone — Dr. Rock and pard Cypriano Rizla — are dubbing between bands last month for one of the Rhythm Room nights at Santa Monica’s Temple Bar. The African/reggae artist Jerri Jheto has just gotten a warm though not gaga reception, and the DJ duo, feeling the uncertain vibe, keep it light — upbeat tunes, lotta vocals, not very dubby. But Rock and Rizla are getting as freaky as they can with the material: applying monster echo to the sampled last syllables of vocal phrases, looping sections, sneaking in snatches of scratching and dissonant two-disc overlap.
The audience is all races: white, Latino, black, Asian. A quarter each — non-proportional to the Westside demographic. A couple of young women are smiling, beginning to sway, like, that’s what we’re here for, right? Their guys, of course, need a drink first to loosen up. Coalescence time. Tonight’s gonna be pretty good.
It’s more intense across town in Echo Park at one of the Wednesday Dub Club nights in the, uh, Echo bar on Sunset Boulevard. Ten o’clock, and the place isn’t open yet, 20 people lined up before the easy-to-miss doorway in this borderline-downscale neighborhood. At 10:15, the first dense bass booms leak through the walls onto the street, and comers start swooping in from every direction — admission’s free before 11. There’s a blond girl in a Catholic-school plaid skirt. Three other girls, one black, one white and one Latina, are grouped on the sidewalk, hashing out their chances of getting past the 21 age limit with fake IDs. A skinny black guy sidles up to them, claiming he’s 19 but can get them all in. The girls know he’s just playing them, so they say fuck it and split.
L.A. Skank & Dub
(Photo by Larry Hirshowitz)
Inside, DJ Chasteen leads off with the heavy shit, no warm-up. The mega-loud bass gets inside your bones, inhabits you like deep water, the slow rhythm unconscious and unstoppable; you’re periodically shattered by a blast of echo, then you can re-gather your molecules. On the video screen: footage of demolished villages. Instruments on the bandstand indicate Jah Faith’s band will be playing too. Again, it’s all races equally divided, 80 or so devotees, and it’s only 10:40.
By midnight the club will be a writhing swarm, but at this moment the real action is still to come. Back out in front, a Latino couple are taking their last breaths of cool oxygen before the sweatbox heats up. The woman, 28, hails from Panama, where reggae is like air. The man, gold stud in his lip, age 33, picked up hints of the music on L.A. radio when he was a kid. Maybe it was Roger Steffens’ The Reggae Beat on KCRW, which turned on the light bulb for so many in this town. They say they’re here to dance, and the Dub Club plays the best music; it’s the only club they regularly hit.
Another scene. On a packed-to-suffocation weekend night at the Echo, Chasteen is spinning his redoubtable crate cargo; Future Pigeon are opening a night featuring Lyon and vet Jamaican singer Mikey Dread; Scientist is mixing live. Pigeon open with their island version of Hendrix’s “Third Stone From the Sun” and churn through a set of roots, ska and pop-reggae bolstered with horns. Thumping the bass is tall pipe cleaner Eddie Ruscha, son of artist Ed Ruscha; scrawnster Jason Mason, a.k.a. Roy Corduroy, washboards a guitar in man-machine fashion and occasionally steps up to the mike for a distinctively grainy lead-vocal yelp. These two musicians/DJs/promoters are the plotters behind Dub Club, and the Echo is its third hole (following Spaceland and the Short Stop) in three years.
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